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People Have Been Warned Against Traveling This Thanksgiving Amid COVID-19 Surge, But Some Are Doing It Anyway

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Hundreds of cars were lined up outside O'Hare International Airport Sunday night.

Travelers arrived with suitcases in hand – not letting COVID-19 travel advisories keep them from spending Thanksgiving with family. As CBS 2's Jeremy Ross reported, the travelers said they are willing to take the risk.

Most said they are trying to consider all the risks and rewards. Experts are forecasting a steep decline in some travel this Thanksgiving holiday compared with an average year – but for some health officials, it is not steep enough.

Travelers are hitting the road, but not like they used to. AAA forecasts fewer Americans traveling for Thanksgiving.

"I'm picking up my daughter from college," said Elroy Pearson.

Pearson was at O'Hare, waiting for his daughter's flight home from school at Brigham Young University. But this reunion at O'Hare is different than others due to COVID-19.

"We're a little concerned about that. We're also concerned that maybe we've got it and might give it to her," Pearson said. "We're going to risk that so that she doesn't spend two months in her apartment by herself."

"I'm very aware of the health risks involved," added his daughter, Maija Pearson. "I know I don't have extended family coming in, so I'm not, you know, I'm just with my immediate family."

In Illinois, about 2.4 million people will travel for the holiday. AAA said that is a decline of nearly 15 percent, the lowest since 2014.

The airlines have been hit especially hard, with a forecast decline of nearly 52 percent compared with last year.

But by the looks of it on Sunday night, traffic at O'Hare might not reflect that.

"This is kind of crazy tonight," Pearson said.

When asked if she was seeing a lot of traffic on the roads, Pearson's daughter Maija added, "Maybe, it's hard to say."

Dr. Ernest Wang, chief of emergency medicine at North Shore University Health System, said traveling for Thanksgiving at this surge point during the pandemic is a monumentally bad idea.

"I'm very concerned about that," Wang said. "Looking at how many people were trying to fly out of O'Hare, Thanksgiving is going to turn out to probably be a super-spreader event."

Wang told us Saturday the alarming increase in hospitalizations coupled with family gatherings this week could put local health systems in crisis shortly after the holiday.

While traffic and trips are expected to decline this year, the effect of loved ones gathering could leave a lasting and tragic impact.

"If you focus on the bleakness, it can just be overwhelming," Pearson said. "I think you just have to look for the bright side."

"There's a need to celebrate and be grateful for what we have," his daughter Maija added.

Medical experts say you should skip Thanksgiving with anyone outside your immediate household. Also, as a reminder, one of the best ways to stop the spread of the virus is to wear a mask.

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